Friday, September 2, 2016

How learning changes us.

So, I've been thinking about what real school reform looks like, and, as I've said before, one of my first steps when thinking about school reform is the shift in focus from education to learning. A shift of importance from the front of the room to the student's seat. I wrote:

"We kneel and pray at the altar of content failing to realize that learning is not the completion of directions, but the acquisition of skills."

As I wrote, I thought, "What doesn't education do that learning does?" Perhaps not grammatically correct, but, it made me think how are these two things different. Here's what I discovered:

Where education can endure without any affect on the student, authentic learning fundamentally changes the learner.

I usually launch into the "learning to walk" story here, but I will refrain. Just let me make this point; when a "baby" accomplishes the remarkable and begins to walk, those around him or her view them differently and categorize them in a new way. They are a toddler. Learning should categorically change how learners are viewed and referenced.

Let me give you another example. I play the guitar. I taught my self, which is not a point to boast, but how often do we interchange the words "learning" and "taught myself?" Interesting. To the point, I learned to play the guitar and it changed how I reference myself, and how others see me. I'm a guitar player. I know this and, when others see me play the guitar, they can identify me as a guitar player.

So, would your students ever refer to themselves as a worksheeter or a multiple choicer? Authentic learning fundamentally changes the learner. How are you students changing?

Your thoughts are welcomed and encouraged.

Dane Barner

Friday, June 10, 2016

Why innovate?

We do not innovate as a reaction to the predictable nature of our surroundings. Our innovation must be a calculated measure challenging possibilities. We chose innovation on the possibility of what those surrounding could be...on potential.

Innovation’s genesis is potential, not perfection. The thought that you can innovate once and have no future use for change is nonsensical. The purpose of innovation is to beget innovation. It is a process that should be perpetual, and, above all, fearless.

Your thoughts are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The foundation of learning.

Great questions elicit answers in their own image. - Krista Tippett, On Being

At its heart, the foundation of learning is asking questions and finding answers. This can be done in two ways: It can be done by asking simple questions with cheap answers, or it can be done by asking essential questions with  transformational answers. 

When the responsibility of learning is pushed aside for the ease of education, and nature of personal betterment is traded for the passage of an institution, the ability to learn independently is lost and innovation made impossible. Our students endure an education founded on task completion and will enter a world most benefited by their thought creation. We must dispense with predictable and make the process fearless. Not where I'm told what to do, but where I practice discovery. 

In education, we find questions with a single answer whose only challenge is found in moving information from one location to another. In learning, we find the opportunity to independently advance our own collection of knowledge and skills. These skills move past the shifting of information to the formation of learning self-reliance. Not learning to rely on ones self, but finding confidence in transitioning from an individual state of inability to ability. 

Your thoughts are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Digital consumers and the excuse of technology.

@jmikton wrote an article about the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants. Long has the argument been made that the generation in school currently have been able to manipulate technology since birth. It's something no one has to teach them. What Mr. Mikton accurately corrects, is students are not digital natives, they are digital consumers. We see students using devices and assume they are using them to their full potential. We assume they know how to connect, collaborate, and ideate when, in fact, they primarily consume.

I see this in the classroom. I teach a survey course in eighth grade. We start with defining, characterizing, and research musical styles and significant contributors to that style. So, students are in groups, and let me provide some other information.

1. Every student has an iPad.
2. I have four additional desktop computers in my room.
3. Every student has a Google account.

When we began the project, students were "researching" (they use a researching tool called copy and paste), and placing their findings in Notes. They would then dictate their copied information to one person to type into keynote. Students can consume, but they struggle to create. Students may be able to Tweet, Snap, and Instagram, but they cannot leverage their screen to learn powerfully. The fact they are comfortable with a device does not mean they understand or can use the complete power of that device.

So, my main question is how do we teach them to stop consuming and start creating? I think that unit design is key. How can we provide space in our instruction to allow for more than moving information from one space to another?

The way I did this was to ask the students prove their learning in a way that was not "copy and pastable." We have three ways to prove their learning in this musical theatre unit. These are probably not going to work for your classroom, but consider the creative opportunities.

In one unit, we study musical theatre. Students can choose to audition for, direct, or perform a musical. Here is what I have seen in the classroom with these proof of learnings:

Audition - students have found a character in the musical they are researching to which they can relate (look at that grammar!). They highlight character traits similar to their own, they talk about ambitions similar to the character. They make it personal. (Remind me to talk about how students only see worth in learning what is personal and transferable.)

Direct - some students have decided to direct the musical they are researching. This has happened in several ways. Some students have taken the Legos I have in my room and produced a scene using stop animation. Others have used a green screen app to provide the setting for their scene. I've even had a few students recruit their friends to produce a live action performance in the classroom. They have found a way to infuse creativity and, dare I say it, fun into their learning.

Perform - amazingly, some students have chosen to perform in front of their friends. This takes courage. How often do we promote courage in our classrooms? How often do we celebrate courage in our classrooms? I'm just sayin', I'm not sure how much courage it takes to complete a packet. When students choose bravery in learning, there is no reason to assess. They proved they learned.

So, my question is: how do you shift our students from consumption to creation? How do you make the learning not just about the tool, but about the process? Students aren't motivated by technology. They are not motivated by a tool. It would be like being motivated to eat because you get to use a fork. How can you design units where the end product is not moving information from one place to another?

Not a lot of answers in this one, but hopefully will move the thinking forward.

Your comment are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Engaged and relaxed.

My principal walked through today's 8th grade class. We are in the middle of the musical theatre project that I have used in the curriculum for a couple of years. My room looks like this:

Yes, I know there is an overhead projector in my room. Please don't judge. It was the level of technology that happened to work for a project. Moving on... So, the learning targets are in Classroom along with the rubric, and a few graphic organizer ideas. Students were all over the classroom. They know they can sit where they can function best.

After a walk through teachers receive an email with a short report of what the principal saw. Everything was pretty typical, until the last point. My principal stated: Students were engaged and relaxed.

The idea that students were engaged and relaxed made me stop for a second. I have never really thought about making it a priority to ensure my students are relaxed in my classroom. We have comfortable places to sit, but relaxed? So, then my brain went into overdrive. What does it take for a student to feel relaxed in my classroom? Why shouldn't that be a goal? So, what is needed for a student to feel relaxed in a classroom?

I think the following things can allow or not allow students to be relaxed:

  • Environment
  • Clarity
  • Investment
Environment - Each classroom is going to look different because each classroom functions differently. How can you shape your learning space to be most inviting, most welcoming? In what ways can you students be in an environment where they can choose where they sit, how they prove their learning, and how that learning is evaluated. I guess you could go as far as to say environment can be substituted with culture. How can you nurture a culture of learning where the playing field is flat, and you and your students are partners in learning.

Clarity - I struggled with this word. What could I say that meant students were clearly aware of procedures, expectations, and quality of learning that didn't come out as "predictable?" There are similarities between the words, but I think the difference is in the fact that predictable is out of my control. If my students and I agreed on these procedures, expectations, and quality of learning is necessary for our room to run efficiently, they have voice and ownership.

Investment - I touched on student voice in clarity, but how invested are our students in what they are learning? How can we encourage them to invest more? I teach two sections of this 8th grade exploratory class. The class from today has no issue with the structure of the class. I have four units. They are all in Classroom. They have targets, expectations, options for proving learning, and rubrics. This class can invest in that. They ask me if they can change certain aspects of the project, I ask them how they will plan and manage the change, and off they go.

The other section...not so much. We launched into our first project this trimester, and they basically refused to put any effort into the work. I pushed, I "threatened" their grade, I thought I could make them learn they way the other section did. This just in... I can't. So, we downshifted. I bagged the unit and jumped into 100% time. This is 20% time; just all the time. I gave them three days to learn whatever they wanted. As students presented, we evaluated the quality of the learning, not the project. We talked about how the student could have made it better. We compared and contrasted projects to see they best parts of each.

When we were through all of the projects, I said, "we have to get connected back to music." I asked if they were interested in a musical theatre project. They said no. I asked if they were interested in watching Phenias and Ferb. That got them. But, when I asked if they wanted to use the learning targets I had used, they replied flatly, no. So, we built a new "rubric" that highlighted what needed to be in their project. I said no to none of the suggestions they voiced. This is what the first class' rubric looks like:

And, here is what the second class' rubric looks like:

This flexibility allowed both groups of student to invest in the project. It allowed them to relax.

Think about your students ability to relax in your classroom. Relaxed is different than comfort. Comfort is a state of the body. Being relaxed is a state of mind.

Your thoughts are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Learning is not an initiative.

When I talk about student voice, agency, and action I really mean the ability to independently advance your own learning. I use student voice, agency, and action because it gives us a guide on how to help students do just that; advance their own learning. You can't just walk into a classroom and declare.


You will confuse and irritate your students.

But, this student voice thing isn't an initiative either. It isn't Everyday Math or Daily 5 or FOSS. It's not something you lay on top of a curriculum, and expect improvement. It's not just something that you do.  The ability for students to use their voice and for teachers listen is an ideology. It's a process. It's a belief. It requires that teachers believe students can learn motivated only by the possibility of being able to do something they have never done. It requires that a student feels safe enough to try, and the only way they will feel that safety is through the relationship between themselves, their classmates, and their teacher.

So, when I feel discouraged about the amount of factory-style, Carnegie-based, cookie cutter education that is happening across America, when I see attendance at student conferences lower than expected, when I hear my students ask "How much do I have to do?", I have to rely on the truth that learning isn't an initiative. It's a belief.

You thoughts are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner

Monday, December 28, 2015

#10summerblogs: What I learned about education from going to DisneyWorld with my family.

Here is my second submission in the #10summerblogs. I know that blogging on vacation can sometimes be ill advised, but what I was learning here was worth archiving and, in my opinion, sharing. How can a trip to Disney World be relatable to any part of education, you ask? I had no clue, but I picked up a few things that I thought we're relatable.

1. If you don't listen to the group, people get crabby.

I am traveling with 11 people who's age range from 2 - 65. We are adult, child, woman, man, American, European, interested, and not. But, the one thing we all share and hold dear is our opinion. You have the same thing in your classroom: opinions. Call this student voice. Call this a culture of learning; whatever. You know if you listen to your kids and value their opinion they will  not only trust you, they will believe in you. If you don't you will have full grown men waiting 80 minutes for some princess fairy tale business they will spend weeks trying to justify to themselves.

2. People are starving to make a connection.

People want to connect. Have you ever been on a vacation, or somewhere out of town, and run into someone you know? Do you ignore the people or are you stop and talk? You stop and talk! I teach in Iowa and love the Hawkeyes (for reasons that sometimes escape me). I was wearing a Hawkeye shirt yesterday and had four people stop me and say, "Go Hawks!" Each of them were from or had lived in Iowa. Each went out of their way to stop and connect. Of course, coincidentally, yesterday afternoon two of my 7th graders were in Animal Kingdom with their family waving enthusiastically to get my attention. People want to connect. Your students want to connect. To you. To each other. To  those who they feel share their passions. How can you connect to them?

3.If you risk a little, others will risk a lot.

Today was our first day at Magic Kingdom. First ride...Space Mountain. My six year old made the height requirement by an entire inch. Jack and I had been talking about this ride for a while.

"Dad, is it scary?"
"No, not too much?"
"Dad, will you go with me?
"Yes, Jack. Right behind you."
"Dad, what if I get scared?"
"Grandpa and I will be right there. No worries."

I sound tough, right? For those of you who might not know, Space Mountain is an indoor roller coaster. That is mostly in. the. dark. Not dimly lit. In. the. dark. I don't like heights. I like heights in the dark far less. Secondly, this is my first born son. I'm putting him on a roller coaster that was built in 1975! That is precisely five years before I was born! I'm putting him on the same technology that produced movies like 'Escape to Witch Mountain' and the 'Apple Dumpling Gang.'

Yes, in reality, I understand the ride is very safe, and my experience would go to prove that. However, my 6 year old has none of these assurances and is trusting me for all of the information he has regarding the ride. How different is it in the classroom? There are times that you students have no experience with the content or subject or 'stuff' you are teaching them. They are risking a lot.

Now, here is the fun part. Let's say you risk a little by taking a new approach at a certain unit. Let's say you integrate technology that you haven't previously used. You risk a little and allow an opportunity for your students to take a leap of faith and learn in ways that they hadn't been able to before. Let's just say that. Here is how it played out for me:

Here's the end of the Jack story: he trusted, and risked. He gained confidence. He conquered Space Mountain, and, when it was time for Splash Mountain, he had a bit of swagger in his step as we walked down the line. He followed the story of Brier Rabbit closely and after the big drop the only thing he was concerned about was it Brier Rabbit got away from Brier Fox and Brier Bear. Be open to risking a little, and give your students the opportunity to benefit from their risking a lot.

4. Get out of the way of other's discovery.

I see many times where some one or some thing or some institution will say, "you need to do this, and you need to do it this way." I think 'they' do this because experience has shown there to be a certain pattern that can be followed where just about everyone can be successful. But we all know that the educational system that was built to create assembly line style, factory-ready products is no longer the one that our current labor market needs. Now, please do not think that I am listing those type of positions as unneeded or somehow undesirable. There are now so many positions that need thinkers who choose the A to B route as one of many options. If we, as educators, allow for students to approach their learning in a way that not only produces the correct answer, but allows for the student to provide proof of learning that changes how they approach the next learning, we will create students who are not just educated; they are learners.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if I want to ride Thunder Mountain and then Space Mountain AND then the Magic Carpets of Aladdin even though I have to cross the ENTIRE park three times! Let me. (Just roll with the poor grammar. It was for dramatic affect)

5. Children are inherently drawn to collaborate.

On our trip we were fortunate to visit at the same time as some friends from Germany. We've had a great time. Here's the interesting part: our friends have a 6 year old daughter (same age as Jack) who speaks almost no English. Problem, right? No way! How is it that six year olds who share no common experience, nor a common language, can interact, play, and learn from each other with relative ease, and I can't get my eighth graders to work together to save my life? When is it that we teach the inherent collaborative nature out of our children? When do children learn that working together creates an environment of inequity, irritation and irrelevance rather than the opportunity to learn, connect and grow? More questions than answers, but there is a point where this mentality changes. We teachers need to be aware and combat this change whenever possible.

6. It's not about you. It's about them.

This is my third trip to Disney. 

Ages for each trip: 16, 30, 34. 
Children per trip: 0, 1, 2. 

Needless to say, my priorities for each trip have changed. The importance of  Rockin' Roller coaster and Terror of Tower have dwindled, and the Dumbo ride and finding all of the characters has somehow escalated.

My opinion of 'who is the most important' has changed dramatically. How is this true for your classroom? The importance of learning is never in question, but the burden of proof is shifting. Out the window has gone teacher-centered, this is how we have always done it, laminated lesson plan thinking (that should all be hyphenated). My priorities have shifted from me-centered to them-centered. This goes back to my ideas on education and learning. I 'educate' students. I'm an educator. However, I have less control over my students learning. Learning is something they do. Learning is a choice. What I can do to make the divide between education (what I do) and learning (what they do) less daunting? These are the things that need thinking. My last question: how do we change school from a place where education resides, to a place where learning happens? I'm not sure yet, but I'll spend the rest of my summer 'on' trying to find out.
Your comments are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner